Under the Skin. Monsters. Marjorie Prime. A few low-budgeted sci-fi flicks that made the most out of their confined canvases. It’s refreshing to see this kind of high-brow, contained filmmaking flourish, particularly amidst the dominating blockbusters of the Summer. And so it is with The Endless, directing duo Benson and Moorhead’s latest contribution to the indie sci-fi sector. While it isn’t perfect and often relies too heavily on uncharacteristic exposition, The Endless still operates within an overlooked area of intellectual ambition that should be commended.
Circling around brothers Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorhead), The Endless follows their descent into increasingly abnormal circumstances, as they decide to return to a cult from their youth after uncovering a cryptic message from one its members. However, this isn’t quite The Stepford Wives or Get Out. Instead, The Endless dabbles in elements of temporality, supernatural spirits and apocalyptic imagery as Justin and Aaron struggle to comprehend the madness that begins to unveil itself.
It all sounds a little far-fetched, and in some respects it is. The Endless goes places that many mainstream flicks wouldn’t dare to, venturing into the scientifically absurd as though it were a mere paddling pool. But the confidence with which Benson and Moorhead are willing to tackle this subject matter, is what makes The Endless such a refreshing and exciting little adventure. It effectively establishes the rules of its fantasy world, maintains a cohesive loyalty to them, but never veers too far from its core premise: a brotherly dispute, come under strain due to the overpowering nature of the cult and its dealings.
Its lucky then that The Endless finds an excellent pairing in directors Benson and Moorhead in the lead roles. While they never quite capture the awe and confusion of Justin and Aaron’s reaction to The Endless’ odd science to the most realistic of effects, they do accurately sell their personal plight, as Justin and Aaron struggle to come to terms with each other’s reasons for returning to/rejecting the cult. There’s a comedic edge to their relationship as well that cleanses the palette when the exposition threatens to take over.
It must be said that the film doesn’t quite define itself aesthetically. Benson and Moorhead adopt editorial/cinematographical duties as well, but the film looks a little dry and drained, almost sepia-tinted. Perhaps that was the intention, to signify the ordinariness of Aaron and Justin’s livelihood, in contrast to the interstellar physics of the cultic world they re-enter. But for me personally, The Endless didn’t quite do visual justice to its narrative ambition.
How The Endless manages tone is perhaps its finest facet. Finding a balance between action, science, mystery and a little aforementioned comedy, The Endless is somewhat of a metamorphic experiment, seamlessly flitting the spectator between a variety of emotions and striking a hit in all of its respective areas. It subtly manipulates its low-budget trappings to create a sense of scale, one that benefits the spectacle in the brief moments that it hits. And in turn, the aura of mystery that emanates from scene to scene is augmented by shrewd suggestions of a larger threat. The Endless walks a difficult tightrope, but does so with confidence.
While it might not bring anything particularly thought-provoking or original to the table, The Endless is a pleasurable little showcase for what ambitious filmmakers can achieve, if willing to think outside of the box. With a surprisingly nuanced pair of central performances, a careful manoeuvring between different tones and an intriguing premise, there’s enough here to warrant checking the film out. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t have applied the same polish to its rather muted look. Overall, a solid intellectual experience that matches the excessive spectacle of this Summer’s blockbusters.
Dir: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
Prd: Justin Benson, Thomas R. Burke, David Lawson Jr., Aaron Moorhead, Leal Naim
Scr: Justin Benson
Starring: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington, Lew Temple, James Jordan
Editor: Justin Benson, Michael Felker,
DOP: Aaron Moorhead
Music: Jimmy Lavalle
IN UK CINEMAS AND DIGITAL HD 29TH JUNE 2018